Coronavirus Dries Up Railways Business, Makes Rs 2,129 Cr Losses

Indian Railways, which was on its way till February to not just meet but surpass its freight loading target, will end 2019-20 with 15.7 million tonnes less than the previous financial year’s 1,212.56 million tonnes, official figures show.

As business dries up due to the coronavirus pandemic and the railways virtually shuts down operations, earnings from freight loading have also plummeted — from Rs 1,25,354 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 1,23,225 crore in 2019-2020 fiscal, a loss of Rs 2,129 crore.

The railways has cancelled all its passenger train services, including suburban ones, till 14 April as a measure to check the spread of the coronavirus that has infected more than 5,100 people in the country and claimed at least 149 lives.

In February this year, when the fear of the pandemic was yet to hit home, the railways loaded 106.5 million tonnes of goods, around 6 million tonnes more than in February last year.

With the national transporter managing to load 1,108 million tonnes by the end of February this year, around 5 million tonnes more than what it was this time last year,  it looked good to achieve its target by 31 March.

Things changed soon after as fear of the virus spread. On 24 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an unprecedented three-week lockdown of the country.

In March, freight loading dipped by almost 3 percent with the railways carrying around 15.7 million tonnes less goods than the previous year.

"The coronavirus pandemic hit us hard from around the end of February when the demand started reducing. When there is no construction, no one needs cement or steel. When there is less demand for power, coal demands are less.

"Then there is the issue with labour too. Their absence means loading and unloading is an issue. So over all, like any other business, our business too has been affected,’’ said an official.

This is the longest shutdown of operations by the railways since its 54-day strike in 1974.

The railways, however, continues to be the lifeline of the country, supplying essential commodities even through the nationwide lockdown.

From 23 March to 4 April, it transported 1,342 wagons of sugar, 958 wagons of salt and 378 wagons/tanks of edible oil across the country.

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